TW/CW: grief, loss, marginalized identity
Review written by Vaishnavi
Beast At Every Threshold implores you to take a dip in the fragility of identity. It leads you to the exploration of belongingness and the intimacy of personal histories.
This, for me, was one of those few collections of poetry that sat just right at the juncture of poetic beauty and depth. The collection holds you down as it bathes you in buckets after buckets of grief, longing, and generational trauma. The poems tread across the themes of queerness, racial oppression, and diaspora, among others. "Threshold" is used as a nuanced metaphor for marginalised identities, personal capacity, boundaries, and even existing around the edges of acceptance as immigrants. The book speaks to you from the collective experiences of the communities that find themselves “boxed” and “othered”.
I found Natalie Wee’s voice to be familiar. The poems had an uncanny resemblance. They reminded me of how remaining at the intersection of many identities subjected me to similar experiences. The poems Wee wrote were hers, but the experiences told through them were ours.
Wee has experimented with the form and structure of poetry and infused her poems with splendid metaphors. The book begins with ‘In Defense of My Roommate’s Dog’, a hard-hitting and almost tenacious onset that walked me through the relationship of the poet with love and longing.
With lines like “I don’t know if I’m real when I’m not being touched”, and “We imagine a funeral each time we peel back fresh need: wait for me, it’s cold, I’m scared,” the poem paves the way for the progression of the book into its kaleidoscopic navigation of loss.
Poems like “Can You Speak English?” and Self-Portrait As Pop Culture Reference told the tale of identity and the indulgent presence of racism and othering that so many from the diaspora are still subjected to.
“Another urban legend: animals will abandon offspring touched by human beings. This, too, has been disproven / by wildlife experts, although / it is easy to believe our hands are capable of so much hurt.”
“I want these facts to mean something to each other / the way a room is just a room until love or its inverse”
And you cannot help but laud her as she chooses her words, pirouettes across grief, navigates loss and identity, and delivers you with poems that will haunt your heart for days.
‘Phoning Home To Tell My Grandmother I Survived A Hate Crime’ made me weep as Wee said “the body is the sound / hurt makes / that we were born / a prelude to cleave”. While Asami Watches Korra In The Rearview filled me with nostalgia and a fuzzy feeling in my stomach. Wee wrote “Praise the miracle of glass that allowed me to touch you before I ever touched you,” and I felt like the tip of the pen that just finished a love letter.
‘Sayang,’ ‘Self-Portrait As Beast Index,’ ‘When I Say I Want To Learn Your Mother’s Recipe, I mean,’ etc. play with the structure of poetry and add freshness to the book. Although the collection ended with ‘I Am My Dreaming Self Getting Better At This,’ a spectacular and fulfilling end, I found myself going back to ‘When My Grandmother Begins To Forget’ which somehow earned the top spot in my favourites from the book. With lines like: “This sentence begins where her memory ends: my grandmother / at dusk, calf-deep in water,” and “What she knows of loyalty is the unchanging horizon. / Of keeping something safe in the throat without breathing.” the poem brings out an intimate emotion of gentle grief in my heart, the softest ache of dissipation.
Vaishnavi (she/her) is a college student from New Delhi, India. She loves poetry, coding, writing, and (often unnecessarily) organising things into systems of productivity. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter: @vaishandart.
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